In what looks like a partial victory for supporters of growing salmon on land, the Scottish Government’s Environment Committee has recommended that owners of marine grow-outs pay for “independent research” into the costs of recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS.
“As a matter of urgency, the Committee would like to see … a full cost-benefit analysis of RAS with a comparative analysis with the sector as it currently operates in Scotland,” the Committee wrote. The suggestion came from RAS proponents offering “evidence” for the Committee’s report.
“While independent of the industry, government and government agencies, the research should be substantially funded by the industry. The Committee would also like to see the government and industry fully explore the potential of (other) closed containment.”
Closed containment could also mean Norway-style development projects which first require development licenses not available in Scotland. They can also refer to flow-through systems requiring river access or RAS for smolt-production only.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency, however, signalled its doubts about the energy use of land-based systems and the resulting distortion of the rural economy.
Yet, the Committee of lawmakers and their experts was clearly moved by one of the large, land-based salmon farms reported by SalmonBusiness in recent weeks. They include Nordic Aquafarms Maine project and Atlantic Sapphire’s Salmon City near Miami.
“Once at capacity, this should produce 20 percent of the current output in tonnes of the Scottish sector,” the parliamentarians wrote.
They were, however, under no illusions about RAS’s costs
“The capital costs of establishing RAS units are high, the energy costs for pumping and treating large amounts of water must be factored in, and 100 percent removal of waste from effluent water is infeasible,” they wrote. Highland Council added its weight to the report, saying RAS is a “land hungry” enterprise “and the installations can be large”.
The Committee, however saw evidence in support of RAS from a number of proponents. The Fishery Management Service liked RAS and closed containment but said “the technology is not currently ready to roll out in Scotland”.
“Bigger offshore farms and incentivisation to develop new RAS and enclosed seawater systems would satisfy the industry expansion targets and also provide significant protection to wild salmon runs,” FMS manager, Jon Gibb, was quoted in the report as saying.
More support for RAS came from Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Scottish Salmon Think Tank, a group which said the industry should stop further farming and be taxed to raise money for RAS R&D.